Truth be told, old flathead Jeep engines are getting hard to find. And since the Willys four-cylinder flathead is the heart of the Jeep, it only makes sense to make new blocks available. At least that’s what John Lampl figured when he was rebuilding his old Jeep and found that the engine block was cracked. In some cases, a cracked block can be fixed, but other times, it’s just not cost effective or reliable. In fact, the supply of good used core engines are so slim that John’s machinist stated the he “could use 20 a month” if they were available. That got John thinking about reproducing the Go Devil engine block so he and other enthusiasts could have a cost-effective alternative.
John’s background is in manufacturing and marketing, and much of his experience came from the overseas companies that do quality work for major car manufacturers. He set out on a fact finding mission to see if an engine block could be produced in the US or abroad, and what it would entail. While not a machinist himself, John worked with many of the right people to figure out how to get this project done. He found that while anything could be built in the US, the cost effectiveness would not be there, even at high quantities of production. In the United States, many of the smaller foundries found they could not compete with the large industrial makers who use more cost-saving automated processes.
The downside of this that the large American foundries/factories have put the “Moms & Pops” out of business and cannot serve the lower-quantity demands of the vintage markets like for the old Go Devil. The sad fact is that we have lost manufacturing diversity to other countries, and to get what we want at the price we want to pay, we have to reach out to other countries that still have those resources. In addition, while these new blocks are made in China, it’s the quality side of that equation that results in a good product. The Chinese manufacturing base is much like that of America in the ’40s and ’50s as far as a great diversity of resources. The upside is that all of these little factories and foundries are using 21st century technology in production. For example, John’s machining operation is using automated CAD CNC machining with tolerances exceeding .0005 inches—far more precise and exceeding the tolerances of American-made ’40s Willys engines. It’s the best of both worlds.
First, John found a foundry willing to produce the small quantities of blocks he envisioned; this isn’t a 10,000 unit production run - at least not yet. Then he had to find the right machining company to precisely CNC machine the castings to his exacting specifications, and also guarantee the repeatability. With the groundwork laid and a business plan made, John took some old blocks over to the foundry to completely map them on a Coordinate Measuring Machine (CMM) and create a 3-D drawing in Solid Works to begin the process. The CMM John’s factory used can measure up to 1.5 micrometers in accuracy (0.000059”). Fortunately John had some in-house help, his daughter Sunnie, a recent graduate of MIT with a mechanical engineering degree was there to look at the design process and advise him throughout the course of development.
We're just finishing up a week-long trip to manufacturers to review progress and discuss development of some new power train products we've been considering. Even with all the moving around, it's been a good week.
Production of the L4-134 blocks is progressing nicely. As a little background, we made a decision in July to do one more prototype run in an effort to incorporate some minor refinements into the final production specs. Our priority was to not only to get it right, but to be in a position to confidently and consistently deliver new blocks with better tolerances than the original blocks produced 50+ years ago.
We're now seeing the benefits of "going the extra mile". While the resulting prototype built up nicely and tested even better, the real value is manifesting itself in the first production run. We've been QC'ing blocks as the come off the line post machining. Specs and tolerances are tight.
While we'd love to take credit for all of this, we humbly acknowledge that are benefiting from huge advancements in manufacturing techniques and technologies over the past half century. Maybe it's fairer to say we have been mindful of taking full advantage of these advancements for the benefit of our distributors and end customers.
Now that we're confident in the process, resulting end product and our manufacturing partners, it's time to think about moving the next products into the development pipeline. We'll leave those details to another post in the near future. ;-)
US delivery dates of the first L4-134 run are updated - first week of November - just in case you've been thinking about an early present for yourself!